IOC to Meet China's Peng Shuai Before Olympics as Global Outcry Increases

The International Olympic Committee said on Thursday it had arranged a "personal meeting" with Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who has remained out of the public eye for a month after accusing a former high-ranking government official of sexual assault.

The IOC's statement comes amid growing international calls for proof of Peng's safety, directed at both Beijing and the Olympics organizer, ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in the Chinese capital. She has made one public appearance in the past four weeks and has yet to release a credible statement about her sudden silence.

Her peers in women's tennis fear the government is attempting to suppress Peng's allegations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli in the country's most high-profile #MeToo case to date.

"We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the well-being and safety of Peng Shuai," read the notice published on the IOC's website. "This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her. We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January."

The online presence of the former world doubles No. 1 has all but vanished in China. After accusing Zhang of coercing her into sexual relations in a social media post on November 2, Peng's revelations were quickly deleted and her account on microblogging website Weibo was removed.

The IOC came under intense public scrutiny last month when its president, Thomas Bach, and others held a video call with Peng, but failed to release a transcript or video. The Olympics body—currently at the heart of preparations for Beijing 2022 in February—determined that the tennis player was "doing fine."

In Thursday's statements, the IOC defended its "human and person-centered approach" to Peng's case, saying it was pursuing the highly sensitive case through "quiet diplomacy."

"There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety," the IOC said. "Since she is a three-time Olympian, the IOC is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organisations."

Star Appears to Be 'Safe and Well'

It continued: "We are using 'quiet diplomacy' which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters."

The IOC said Peng appeared "safe and well" in Wednesday's video conference, "given the difficult situation she is in." The committee said it would "continue to be concerned about her personal situation and will continue to support her."

In the month since she aired her experience, Peng has yet to be seen speaking freely. All news and comments related to her case remain censored on Weibo as well as other Chinese social media services and search engines.

The IOC's latest statement came just hours after the Women's Tennis Association said it had made the decision to suspend business in China. The WTA—backed robustly by current and former professionals—has led the international campaign pressuring Beijing and the Olympics organizer.

Censorship in China

WTA Chair Steve Simon said in the statement released on Wednesday: "She knew the dangers she would face, yet she went public anyway. I admire her strength and courage. Since then, Peng's message has been removed from the internet and discussion of this serious issue has been censored in China.

"Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner."

"Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation," Simon added. "As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong."

He concluded: "In good conscience, I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022."

According to Reuters, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to the WTA action by saying Beijing opposes the "polarization of sport." Wang's comments could not be found on Chinese social media at the time of publication.

ICO to Meet China's Missing Peng Shuai
Peng Shuai of China in action against Daria Kasatkina of Russia during a first-round match at the China Open in Beijing on September 28, 2019. Fred Lee/Getty Images